HL Deb 27 February 1998 vol 586 c117WA
Lord Williams of Elvel

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have accepted the recommendations of the National Heritage Committee in their report of press activity affecting court cases. [HL747]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg)

The Government is committed to obtaining an appropriate balance between the due administration of justice on the one hand and freedom of speech on the other. It has concluded that the committee's recommendations maintain that balance and has therefore accepted them in principle.

The Report recommended (i) that there should be legislation forbidding payments to witnesses, and (ii) that Section 2 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 should be strengthened so that it covers the collective or cumulative effect of pre-trial publicity in risking prejudicing a trial, as well as the effect of individual articles. This means that newspapers could not escape liability, as one case held they could, because a number of them had acted in a similar way and together had caused the prejudice.

Work is proceeding on the form which the necessary legislation should take. It will be brought forward when a suitable opportunity is found.